Trump tariff on solar imports gets mixed reaction in Georgia

The decision this week by president Trump to impose a 30 percent tariff on solar panel imports has been met with mixed reactions in Georgia.

The determination pits solar panel manufacturers, who say without the tariff they can’t compete against cheaper solar cells and modules being imported from China, against solar panel installation companies that say the tariff will result in more job losses because of the high cost of materials and impede growth in a sector of the economy that has been experiencing a surge in the last five years.

Georgia-based solar panel manufacturing company, Suniva filed a petition with the US International Trade Commission last year, asking the commissioners to determine whether the dumping of imported crystalline-silicon solar PV cells and panels from China was causing harm to local solar manufacturing companies.

VIDEO: Previous coverage of this issue

The four commissioners at the ITC unanymously determined that the overabaundance of cheaper solar imports in the country was a “substantial cause of serious injury to the domestic industry.”

Suniva filed for bankruptcy protection in April last year and laid off 230 workers, citing financial hardships stemming from unfair competition from cheap solar imports from China.

Pete Marte ,Vice chair of the Georgia Chapter of the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA), which represents a range of interest in the solar energy industry, says the tariff will serve the interests of few companies to the expense of the larger solar industry.

“While tariffs in this case will not create adequate cell or module manufacturing to meet U.S. demand … they will create a crisis in a part of our economy that has been thriving, which will ultimately cost tens of thousands of hard-working, blue-collar Americans their jobs,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA’s CEO.

“Its a pretty bad deal at the end of the day,” said Marte, who is also the founder and CEO of Atlanta-based Hannah Solar, which focuses on installations in 7 states in the Southeast.

President Trump, who campaigned under the promise of protecting American manufacturing jobs signed the trade action Tuesday.

“My administration is committed to defending American companies, and they’ve been very badly hurt, from harmful import surges that threaten the livelihood of their workers,” Trump said Tuesday at the White House.

According to the trade action, the percentage in tariffs will be declining each year until the tariffs are phased out on the fourth year.

The tariffs will affect other segments of the solar industry besides panel manufacturers, SEIA said, and lead to the loss of 23,000 jobs and the the suspension or cancellation of investments worth billions of dollars in the industry.

“There are over 200,000 jobs in solar and Suniva and SolarWorld (which joined the petition with Suniva) have less than 1,000 employees and they are going to threaten some of the 200,000 plus jobs because they were not well managed,” said Marte.

Suniva did not respond to repeated calls and emails for comment on the decision.

Juergen Stein, the CEO for Oregon-based SolarWorld Americas, welcomed the decision by the president. “We are still reviewing these remedies and are hopeful they will be enough to address the import surge and to rebuild solar manufacturing in the United States,” said Stein in a statement.

For Georgia installation company, Hannah Solar, management says they had anticipated the tariffs, what concerned them was how much of a tariff would be imposed. Marte said his suppliers had factored in extra costs in their invoices when it became clear that a tarriff was in the offing.

“It cuts into our margin and impedes our ability to grow as fast as we would normally do,” said Marte who hopes he will be able to keep his 120 employees on the payroll through the four year covered in the tariff.

Georgia ranks 9th in solar capacity nationwide and employs 3,000 people in the industry.

Bryan Jacob, solar program director at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy said the tariff will not stop the growth of the industry.

“The solar market is resilient and growth will resume,” the company statement said in part.

The last five years have seen the solar industry emerge stronger, with 1.6 million solar installations in the US by the end of 2017, which accounted for 1.8% of all electricity countrywide.

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